Port Elizabeth of Yore: The Comrades Marathon Connection

Prior to 1975, the Comrades Marathon was only open to white men. Despite this restriction, several women and black people ran the race in contravention of that restriction. One such person was Robert Mtshali, a young black runner, who in 1935 completed the race in 1935 as an unofficial runner in the time of 9:30. To provide Mtshali with some form of recognition for his achievement, a local Councillor, Councillor Dr. Vernon Lyall Shearer, presented him with an unofficial award.  

Robert Mtshali Plaque

In 2005, to mark the celebration of the 80th Comrades Marathon, the Comrades Marathon Association unveiled a bronze plaque at the entrance to the Comrades Marathon Museum to commemorate Mtshali’s courageous and ground-breaking 1935 run, in symbolic recognition of the many forgotten Comrades finishers, both male and female, who so bravely completed the race unofficially prior to 1975 when participation in the race was officially opened to men and women of all races.

Robert Mtshali moved to the Port Elizabeth in the 1940s and bought the house in which his sole surviving daughter, Sibongile, still resides, in New Brighton, Port Elizabeth. While walking home from his road works job on the 01 June 1967, a car knocked Robert over in Ferguson Street. He died that day.

On 10 June 2005, a plaque was unveiled at Comrades House, Pietermaritzburg, dedicated to all the men and women who completed the Comrades prior to 1975 when it was officially opened to all races and both genders. In 2019 the Comrades Marathon Association went further and introduced the titanium-made Robert Mtshali Medal which is awarded to all athletes who complete the Comrades Marathon between nine hours and 10 hours.

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